My parents came to Australia after World War II. Between 1945 and 1965 more than two million migrants came to Australia. Many of these migrants became wealthy. They stepped off the boat and started working. They spent little on themselves, bought properties and built up their wealth. This is the case of an Austrian man who lived in our neighbourhood. After he arrived in Australia, he bought a business, then a shop building, then a house, an investment property, another commercial building, a holiday house and finally another commercial building. He worked hard until he had ruined his health, and was almost crippled by a bad back, diabetes and heart problems. He never ever got to enjoy the fruits of his labour – he was very sick in the final years of his life.
Whenever anything went wrong, his solution was to work even harder. When he was having marital problems, he didn’t talk to his wife, spend more time at home or see a marriage counsellor – he spent more time at work. His marriage ended. When the relationship with his children turned sour he worked more. He never got back to Austria to see his old mother before he died, because he couldn’t bear to be away from his business. He was a classic workaholic.
Are you a workaholic?
I once read that being a workaholic is one of the few addictions valued by our society. How can you tell if you are a workaholic? Well, if the solution to every one of your personal problems is to work harder then I suspect you are a workaholic. Do you dream about work? Do you think constantly about work? Is everything you read and watch on the internet related to your work?
The nature of work is changing. More people run their own online businesses. More of us are entrepreneurs. That means we put in long hours trying to make our endeavours a success. It is totally up to us if our business survives. Perhaps that’s why more people are becoming workaholics. But if you work constantly, what impact does it have on the quality of your life? It is essential to achieve a work life balance, even if you are your own boss. I have a few tips to control your workaholism.
Cut down the hours you spend at work
Workaholics live at work. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave. They love to take work home with them. But the experts say that workaholics are prone to burn-out because they fail to exercise enough or take care of their psychological health. Consequently they are not as productive as the slow and steady workers. If you are a workaholic it is essential to cut down on the number of hours you work. Aim to leave the office at clock-off time at least three times a week for a month then build it up to four times a week.
Don’t think about work outside hours
Workaholics think about work even when they are not working. They actually struggle to switch off and stop thinking or talking about work. You could send a workaholic to Paris and they would still think about work. They could be walking through the Amazon Jungle and they’d still want to talk about work.
Experts who work with alcoholics encourage them to learn how to daydream. They need to list their interests outside of work and consciously spend time thinking pleasant thoughts thinking about how they can extend their interests. If they like bushwalking they need to research national parks where they could go hiking and dream. Daydreaming can actually improve worker productivity. People who daydream tend to function better under stress as they can escape the stress just by visiting different places in their head. Daydreams stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the body’s “rest and digest” response. The parasympathetic nervous system slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Work worries activate the body’s stress chemicals.
Make the people you love your priority
The friends and family of workaholics are often acutely aware that they come second to the workaholic’s career or business. They tell the workaholic that they never see them or give up expecting to have a real relationship with the person. The workaholic meanwhile fails to show for anniversaries and forgets birthdays. Soon they have marriage problems. The divorce rate of alcoholics is 40 percent higher than for the general population. Also the children of workaholics have more anxiety and depression.
To control your workaholism, you need to make your loved ones the priority in your life. Schedule a time to talk to them about your addiction to work. Tell them you intend to spend less time at work. Ask them what they want from you. How can you improve the relationship? Will you spend more time together? How much time? How will you ensure that you fully engage with them and not think about your work? You could even think about talking to your GP about your work addiction. Would some time with a psychologist help?
Ditch your bad lifestyle habits
People who work long hours tend not to exercise enough, eat junk food and rarely get enough sleep. Mental health experts who treat work addicts consistently see the same health problems suffered by heavy drinkers. They have gastrointestinal problems, headaches and migraines, and are often overweight.
If you are a workaholic you need to make a conscious effort to spend less time at work and focus on improving your health. That means schedule in exercise, cook healthy meals and get eight hours of sleep. Cutting down on the hours you spend at your workplace will make achieving easier!
Reassess how you value yourself
Executive coach Dr Marilyn Puder-York says that workaholics only define their self-worth by their achievements at work. They define themselves only by their work, for example “I’m a lawyer”, “I’m a pilot”, “I’m a doctor”. Being a father, mother, husband, wife, sister, brother, friend, volunteer means nothing to them. They need to achieve at work and when they don’t they become disheartened. They need to let go of their perfectionism. They also need to spend time thinking about the other roles they play in life – their role as parent and spouse. These are truly the most important roles in our lives.
At the end of the day the workaholic needs to learn that we work to live. We work to pay our bills, support our families and finance activities we enjoy. Of course it is great to have a job that allows us to give to the community and a job that we enjoy. It is also great to become financially secure, even wealthy, but we are so much more than our work. We work to live, we should never live to work.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.